The Bolshoi, directed by the renowned Valery Todorovsky (The Lover, Hipsters), is about to hit our screens as part of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival, and if you hadn’t heard of the festival before, it’s time to attune your ears. The film follows the life and struggles of Julia Olshankaya (Ekaterina Samuylina & Margarita Simonova), a former street performer, as she attempts to dance her way through the Moscow State Academy of Choreography and onto the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre. The opening shots are enough to draw you in even if your understanding of Russian and ballet is extremely limited, or non-existent.
The film alternates between the past and the present. As adults, the dancers, Julia (Margarita Simonova) and Karina (Anna Isaeva), struggle between the hardships and temptations of real life and the life of the ballet. In between scenes of their daily dramas we witness flashbacks of Julia’s past, where the talented ten-year-old, played by Ekaterina Samuylina, was just sidling into the ranks of rich ballet students, trying to find her place.
The film provides not only a beautiful insight into the Russian ballet, but also the human relationships and tragedies that follow us throughout life. The acting is raw and natural, drawing you in to their world with ease. Samuylina, playing the younger Julia, brought incredible light to the screen. Her character was endearing, and the back-and-fourth between Julia and her teacher, the older Galina Mijailovna (Alisa Freindlich), had people chuckling in their seats. The friendship forged between the two was thoughtfully created, yet could have been expanded upon, as jumps between the past and present left important pieces of information out.
Though I loved to see the ballet from both child and adult Julia’s point of view, at times the transition between these left me confused and distanced from the magic of the film. For a film that tried to do so much, it sometimes felt as though it was trying to do too much. In 132 minutes some relationships were explored deeply, some hinted at and some had me wondering why they were included at all. Yet something about the magic of dance, music and humanity all intertwined to carry the movie far beyond these minor shortcomings.
I left the cinema with a warm feeling conjured up by a talented cast, insightful director and incredible soundtrack. The Russian Resurrection Film Festival is not to be missed.
The Russian Resurrection Film Festival will screen at ACMI from November 9 – 19.